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Martin Meissner/AP

Car’s Exhaust System Could Be Viable Energy Source

August 15, 2008 07:59 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Researchers are testing ways to transform the excess heat released by a car’s tailpipe into usable energy.

Harnessing a Car’s Wasted Heat

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Cars waste a lot of heat,” The Economist reports. In fact, approximately 60 percent of the potential energy contained in gasoline may be expelled or released as heat by an engine.

Researchers for the German automaker BMW are trying to use that to their benefit. They’ve fitted a thermoelectric generator to the exhaust system of a test car to see if they can collect the wasted heat and use it to make electricity. By coupling two metals together and keeping them at different temperatures, the generator creates voltage.
The problem, though, is that thermogenerators aren’t very effective. They turn between 6 percent and 8 percent of a car’s wasted heat into electricity. Different materials in the generator could improve those results, says Dr. Richter, a researcher for BMW.

Another company, BSST, is also working on a car component that could trap waste heat from the exhaust system to make electricity. The company currently sells a Climate Control Seat, which heats or cools a car passenger’s body using electrically-powered heat exchange materials. BSST wants to reverse that process, and use heat to make electricity instead.

Scientists say both heat-to-electricity projects will be in development for several years before they are commercialized.

Worldwide, scientists are pursuing multiple ideas for renewable energy development. In the United States, the movement recently drew some big-name support from Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who wants to help the United States break its dependence on foreign oil. He has proposed his “Pickens Plan,” which would help the country rely more on wind energy to power homes, freeing up natural gas resources to fuel cars.

Related Topic: Testing Alternative Energy Possibilities

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